We Are Water by Wally Lamb
Published by Harper
From the publisher:
In middle age, Anna Oh – wife, mother, outsider artist – has shaken her family to its core. After twenty-seven years of marriage and three children, Anna has fallen in love with Vivica, the wealthy, cultured, confident Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her professional success.
Anna and Viveca plan to wed in the Oh family’s hometown of Three Rivers in Connecticut, where gay marriage has recently been legalized. But the impending wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora’s Box of toxic secrets–dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs’ lives.
We Are Water is an intricate and layered portrait of marriage, family, and the inexorable need for understanding and connection, told in the alternating voices of the Ohs–nonconformist Annie; her ex-husband, Orion, a psychologist; Ariane, the do-gooder daughter, and her twin, Andrew, the rebellious only son; and free-spirited Marissa, the youngest Oh. Set in New England and New York during the first years of the Obama presidency, it is also a portrait of modern America, exploring issues of class, changing social mores, the legacy of racial violence, and the nature of creativity and art.
With humor and breathtaking compassion, Wally Lamb brilliantly captures the essence of human experience in vivid and unforgettable characters struggling to find hope and redemption in the aftermath of trauma and loss. We Are Water is vintage Wally Lamb-a compulsively readable, generous, and uplifting masterpiece that digs deep into the complexities of the human heart to explore the ways in which we search for love and meaning in our lives.
I have been a long-time fan of Lamb’s books, ever since Oprah introduced the world to She’s Come Undone twenty years ago. I read that and I Know This Much Is True as a teenager and instantly fell in love with his complex character studies, gorgeous writing, and the myriad of issues that show up in all of Lamb’s novels. Sadly, I never picked up his third novel (although I own it and keep planning on it), so I was thrilled when my book club chose We Are Water, forcing me to read a book I wanted desperately to read anyway. And I have to tell you, this novel is every bit as complex as the first two, and just as fantastic. I loved it.
There is SO MUCH going on in this novel. Gay marriage and those who oppose it, child abuse in its many forms, racism, the military and how it has the potential to change people, wealth and privilege, unplanned pregnancy, you name it, you can probably find it in the pages of We Are Water. In addition to these issues, the characters here are so nuanced, so honest, so very real, that you can’t help but embrace them, flaws and all. And these people are abundantly flawed – they all at some point hurt those closest to them, some because the are incapable of doing better, some because they are unwilling to do better, or to see what’s happening around them. This family has so many skeletons, so much buried beneath the surface of their real lives, that when they do finally come together and allow honesty into their relationships, things get heavy very quickly. It’s heartbreaking to read but so unflinchingly honest and true that the reader can’t possibly turn away from what’s happening on the page.
What I love about Lamb’s novels is that they are the kinds of books you can really sink your teeth into. The kinds of books that transport you into another family’s existence, where as a reader you can disappear for hours or even days, immersing yourself into their world. When I finished this book, I couldn’t get the characters out of my head. Even now, over a month after finishing it, when I’ve read ten or so books since, scenes from the novel keep popping up in my brain when I least expect that to happen. I won’t forget these characters and their stories for a long time – which reminds me of just why I love Wally Lamb in the first place. It made me want to read his third novel immediately, then go back and re-read the first two of his books.
I have to be honest – I read this for book club and I was disappointed that we didn’t have more of a discussion around the novel. Our book club hasn’t had the greatest discussions lately but I truly thought that this novel, of anything we’ve ever read, should have sparked some really interesting conversations. Oh well – I can tell you that it is a GREAT book club pick because there is truly so much here to talk about.
Anyway, can you tell that I loved We Are Water? One of the best books I’ve read this year, hands down. I give this one my most high recommendation.